In A City of Constant Yang

Yang in ecstasy, Los Angeles, 2019                                                                                 Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

SO I PICKED UP two ladies in West Hollywood at bar close last night.  They paid me for service. Oh baby, they paid.

The first woman was going to Sherman Oaks. She had a friend going to Brentwood.  Could I add her to my route? Her last two Uber drivers had stood her up.

Sure. Just add the address.  She did, and -oof- the fare jumped to $110. Ms. Brentwood kvetched as we climbed Laurel Canyon. How difficult it now was to get an Uber now, especially out of LAX since she was only traveling a short distance. Drivers were holding out for rides to Disneyland or Palm Springs.  This was unfair.  Ms. Sherman Oaks noted the number of office mates who had repatriated to their places of origin during the pandemic but still on the payroll at LA salaries while Zooming in from Maine or Idaho.  This made no sense.

Actually it made perfect sense, in Ayn Randian terms.

There is a shortage of Uber drivers now as there is a shortage of service workers everywhere. This is the natural consequence of the government paying people to remain jobless.   Uber is a real-time spot market for service on demand: how much will you pay to get home now, as opposed to an hour from now?  Riders groan in dismay, but they’re playing against the house, which sits on years of metadata. Uber knows what you will pay.

So I earned $85 for 34 minutes of driving, plus an additional $12 in incentives above the fare as an inducement to keep me on the road.  What Uber doesn’t know, and no one does, is how deeply or how far in the future riders are willing to be gouged. Thus, incentives, a hedge against uncertainty.

Technically L.A. fully reopened June 15, no mask, no social distance, full capacity. Practically speaking its “Help Wanted” signs and signing bonuses everywhere.

Establishments that are able to reconstitute their staff are making a killing. A third of my weekend trips involve just seven Westside businesses:
The Lincoln
Brennans
Roosterfish
Venice Whaler
Townhouse
The Victorian
Bungalow
There are frequently one hour lines.  For bars.

One might ask: how long can this go on? I thought when word leaked on chat boards this spring of all the fat, once-a-decade money being made behind the wheel, drivers would return.  My contemplative brethren have failed to heed the call. Then the Biden administration extended full PUA and UI benefits through September.  The California eviction moratorium was extended to October, with taxpayers picking up 80% of the back rent and landlords required to eat the remaining 20%.

Protections for some tenants could last into March 2022 while they apply for financial aid from the state.

Okay, March then.  Maybe. But why would it end there?  People (some, not all) can double-dip with impunity, taking the dole and shorting the rent. Woe betide the politician who says yes to the first televised eviction in Los Angeles.*

And there’s more. Buried in the “infrastructure” reconciliation bill now before Congress is a $7200 refundable child tax credit: the old, reviled AFDC/cash welfare resurrected by another name. That’s per kid, permanently, on top of EBT, Section 8, Medicaid and free phones. Add it up. No one collecting $50K in baseline support is going to apply for shift work at Costco and its not because she is busy writing a novel.

How far we have moved the Overton window in 15 months. In 2019 the Universal Basic Income proposed by Andrew Yang was a $1000/month supplemental floor, which would scale downward with earnings, intended to augment, not replace work. I thought it a potential boondoggle, but it would pass for sober and responsible now.  Easily Americas most likable politician, Yang got a respectful hearing, but his proposal didn’t achieve liftoff . That was so 2019, when we paid lip service to moral hazard and inflationary pressure.  Now we pay $100 for Uber rides and $100 for a sheet of plywood.

If one were to conjure a black swan event which would fundamentally weaponize America’s most self-destructive proclivities: safetyism, media hysteria, profligate spending, veneration of bureaucrats, corporate oligarchy; if would be hard to improve on the Wuhan virus.

If you’re wondering when the bill will come due for all the deficit trillions, it’s already here.

Here’s a sweet coda: despite her frustrations with Uber Ms. Sherman Oaks left me a $22 tip. On top of the $110. Some people are innately gracious.

For now.

 

* Actually, enormous respect and quiet appreciation would flow to such a person. The rending of garments on social media would be considerable.

Zillow Heaven Wants You to Know AmeriKKKa Sucks

Independence Day greetings from the Bird Streets in the Hollywood Hills.  Sorry for the blurry photo but I was in a moving car.

Normally, the variable message sign up in the canyons is a Bailiwick of Karen:  Slow Down!  No Park Access! No Parking!  Last night, in honor of our nation’s founding document it was a holiday whiskey shooter of contempt.

The bonus exclamation points are for Joy, Epiphany, and Piety. Also because it feels so good.

The least expensive house for sale in this neighborhood is $2.5 million.  The median would appear to be around $10M.  Let’s take a look around Zillow Heaven to see how they’re making do:

A small army of people, most of them brown, commutes from the Valley daily to tend to these homes and their white occupants.   Looking at this tableau I think of the scene in Cabaret when the kitchen women are listening to Hitler on the radio while making dinner and Sally, Brian, and Maximillian are too caught up in their own drama to understand the implications.  We are living through something like that today, but with the polarities reversed: the elites are revolting against the little people. We continue as though the old rules were still operative while a handful of billionaires control the public square.  Statements in the public square claiming AmeriKKKa does a few things other than Suck will be forwarded to the Human Resources department for your cancellation, and not in an ironic way.

But first, clean these countertops.

If you’re going to mock America, do it right.  Observe the masters:

*real estate porn courtesy of MLS

Vanderpumping the Valley

A new season of Vanderpump Rules is upon us, with a new twist. The cast members (who make $25K per episode) have decamped from their apartments in West Hollywood and purchased homes near each other in…Valley Village and Sherman Oaks and Valley Glen.  Mrs. UpintheValley is in ecstasy.  Practically neighbors.

If you’re a reality star in your eighth season, what do you buy?  What does $2 million get you?   Farmhouse modern, glossy white with black trim, newly constructed.   One of the houses, I noticed, actually abuts a major Valley boulevard. Who would pay seven figures to live next to traffic?  Bravo stars, that’s who.    It’s also possible they chose houses with a generic facade/motif to discourage fans from identifying their location and pestering them with vegan housewarming gifts.

This strikes me as a seachange in how the Valley will be viewed in pop culture terms, going forward. This is not Calabasas. This is the flatlands, north of the 101.  Adam Carolla-ville. Almost Van Nuys adjacent. This is us, albeit on a grander scale.  It’s the inevitable consequence of too much money chasing too few houses.   The little ones go down, and bigger ones take their place, to the limit of the setback.

Then there’s Cleveland, which has been rebranding for two generations in the hope bargain hunters from Californians and New Yorkers will head there in search of a price point too good to refuse.

After my last post, alert reader James noted an earlier Plain Dealer branding campaign from the 80s:  New York may be the Big Apple, but Cleveland’s a Plum.  

This sort of civic boosterism inevitably gets trumped by crowdsourced public branding. Healthy cynicism, like cream, rises to the top.   Shame can be a social glue, if not a left-handed expression of pride. It offers consolation without changing facts on the ground.  But in the end, King James will leave you, not once but twice.

In America’s great divergence between the boutique cities on the coasts and Everywhere Else, the New Urbanists keep waiting for people to respond to economic signals. Logic says move to the Rust Belt: big house, tiny price tag, short commute. Be a big fish in a smaller pond.  Locate your start-up here, cut your burn rate in half. California responds by saying, meh, I’d rather just move to my own personal Cleveland called the Valley, and turn that into West Hollywood.

Yes, please. Keep pumping.

Postcards from YIMBYville


The upper picture was taken in April.  The second one I took at the open house last week.  That’s framing to Zillow in two months.  This ain’t your grandmas accessory dwelling unit.  Granny flats will be granny-free in three years. Sooner, perhaps. For this kind of rent money, people will let her sleep on the living room couch.

In its own halting way, Van Nuys is going Sherman Oaks. Sherman Oaks is going West Hollywood, which is going Tokyo.

In a related development, one of my neighbors put new siding on his house.

And the City of Los Angeles chipped up some perfectly good wheelchair ramps and filled them back in again.  Because the money has been appropriated progress.

Ask the city for basic beautification and neighborhood street lighting and you will be told there is no money at all. The City is broke. Broke!  The field deputies rattle their chains of poverty the way my mother used to wail over her $100/month land payment.  But when it comes to Keynesian ditch-filling stimulus, the bucket of Monopoly money is bottomless.

Not Gay. Australian!

West Hollywood, 1 Am, Two Dudes in the Uber:
Driver, are you gay?
We’re straight, but we’re totally cool with it. We’re from Australia.
I love my mates. Sometimes I kiss them on the mouth.
But we’re straight.
We’ve seen each other’s junk too.  But we’re cool with it.
I know where all my mate’s moles are.
You do?
Mate, I know your moles.  I could pick you out of a headless lineup.
You mean a dick lineup?
Driver, can we go back to the Abbey? I left my credit card at the bar.
Nobody told us it was a gay bar.
Not that we care. We’re Australian.
We’re there for the girls.
Driver, can I drink from your water bottle?
I promise not to put my lips on it.
Maybe a little. Whoops.
Do you believe in “super germs”? Like when germs from another continent mix with American germs and make new germs?
Since you’re already gay, you wouldn’t mind a little, right?
We’re from Australia.

There are nights I really, really enjoy being an Uber driver.

Three Versions of the Life You’re Not Having in LA

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Why aren’t you living in this building? It’s only $24,000 a year, per bedroom.  You’re 26, you can afford it.  They call it adulting.

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Strong women love peeling potatoes in their under-lederhosen. Didn’t you know that?

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Your boyfriend is right around the corner, waiting to kiss you, and he’s dressed in a tailored suit.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Surge Pricing

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A word to the wise partygoer: if you’re standing in front of The Abbey at quarter to two in the morning with your phone out, waiting for an Uber home, you do not have a strong hand to play. It’s a tough get on an average Saturday night.  On New Years Eve?  Well, as they back East,  fughetaboutit…

The delicate mechanics of rider and car finding each other at the corner of Santa Monica and Robertson can be challenging.  This is where, at a certain point the evening, the normal order of cars-on-the-street, pedestrians-on-the-sidewalk gives to way to a state of nature.  All pretense of traffic signals, loading zones, crosswalks and waiting ones turn is in the wind.

The conversation runs something like:  “We’re across the street from the fire truck. See us?”

Beyond the sea of faces jaywalking past my windshield, in the middle distance, I can make out the blinking orange lights of a fire truck. Anything beyond that might as well be in Orange County.

“Just pull in behind the fire truck. We’ll find you.”

“I’m not turning onto Robertson. We’ll never get out of there. Meet me at the corner.”

The Corner: Dozens of cell phones twinkling,  each surrounded by a cluster of hopeful riders.  Some are utilizing the flashlight function, as though waving a bright light into the windshield of an approaching Uber will expedite matters.  It doesn’t.

No sooner do I pull to the curb than the door is yanked open and a theatrical couple take possession of the back seat.

“Oh thank God you’re here.  We’ve been waiting for-ever.”

I ask for the name on the account. Of course it doesn’t correspond to my rider.  Regrettably, I’m here for someone else, I explain.

“But we’ve been waiting so loooong…”

After several long minutes in front of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant, fending off pirate boarders, the correct riders find me.

Four people, one passed out drunk next to me in the shotgun seat, another passed out in the back.  Lucky Couple Number Two rounding third base necking, all the way home.  I didn’t mind. Getting people safely where they want to be in whatever state they are in at the moment, is at the core of Uber service.

When we reached Calabasas it was 31 degrees. Nobody could find the keys to the house.  Make Out Girl was hopping about in bare feet, holding her heels in one hand, and patting down pockets of her slumbering friends. Eventually the keys were located and Make Out Guy fireman-carried the slumberers across the threshold. My evening was done.

Three hundred and twenty bucks. That’s one hell of a hangover.